iPad's iBooks: Give Us The Tools

iPad's iBooks: Give Us The Tools

Summary: So far, web designers and self-publishers haven't been given any direction or tools to exploit the nascent Apple iPad ecosystem.

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Apple's iBooks reader and online bookstore for iPad will revolutionize the way we read electronic content. But so far, self-publishers haven't been given any direction or tools to exploit the nascent Apple ebook ecosystem.

So the iPad was announced, and there was much rejoicing. Some of us dyed-in-the-wool Apple skeptics and "antagonists" even genuinely applauded the boldness of the device's entry-level price point while at the same time remain cautiously optimistic despite some shortcomings that are evident in the 1.0 product release. And after the initial luster wore off, reality began to set in.

While many consumers, including myself await the general availability of the iPad and are on the e-mail list to receive notification for when the product can be purchased, there is a glaring lack of information during the product's ramp-up period for content creators to produce books and optimized websites for the device when it launches.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Yes, Apple has given developers a Software Developer Kit. This is of course extremely important, as applications in the existing iPod/iPhone App Store ecosystem will need to be tweaked to fully take advantage of the much larger display, processing capability and other features not present in the smaller devices.

However, this SDK does not address what is perhaps the iPad's "Killer App" which is the viewing of content itself, meaning optimized websites and the eBooks that will run in the iBooks application on the device.

First, lets tackle the issue of optimized websites. From what my colleagues who have been working with the iPad SDK tell me, the SDK is primarily for testing native applications which use the iPhone OS APIs in Objective C, not for testing the iPad simulator with websites.

Apparently the implementation of Safari which runs on iPad isn't part of the current iPad 3.2 SDK in the simulator. This seems like either a glaring omission or that the Safari code for the SDK's simulator or for the final shipping device hasn't been baked yet.

While many websites will probably just "Work" with iPad, since the screen dimensions and resolution are closer to a Mac or a PC's native web browser than an iPhone, any number of UI and usability considerations are going to have to be examined for compatibility to make sure stuff isn't just broken or if various things need to be tweaked.

The User Agent from iPad's Safari also needs to be known so that so that web developers can make programmatic changes to our web sites to give iPad users an optimized website experience. We need a Safari simulator for iPad and we need it really soon. I can't emphasize this enough.

That's just tweaking websites. From what is known about the iBooks store at initial launch, it will be seeded with eBooks from several large publishing houses. Apple has so far stated that the target format for iBooks will be EPUB. This is a huge validation of that format from Apple, and is a move I genuinely applaud, but that move to support that open format raises more questions than it answers.

First is the issue of authoring tools. Currently, the premier authoring platform for EPUB ebooks is Adobe's InDesign. Given the current state of relations between Apple and Adobe, I think it's fair to say that it probably makes sense for Apple to have its own set of authoring tools, or for Apple to Open Source EPUB authoring tools so that small publishers or even self-publishers can get into the game. Right now, e-book production for the independent publisher or author is a huge challenge, and InDesign isn't cheap.

For example, I'm currently a board member of a not-for-profit organization, the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute,  which is giving an e-book away, and we want to make it usable on the iPad from day one. The problem is, we have to apply some form of DRM to this book because we don't want it printed out on paper for free nor do we want people re-issuing it with added text that the author did not intend. So for the moment, we're giving it out as a locked PDF.

We know PDF will work on the iPad and any number of other eBook platforms, such as SONY's reader and the Kindle, but we also know we can't put a PDF on the iBooks store and long term we know that it's a terribly bloated format for ebook distribution and is only a stopgap.

We have to assume that iBooks will support some kind of DRM on their EPUBs, but Apple does not specify what kind of DRM should be applied to it and EPUB as a standard has no recommended set of DRM formats either.

Almost certainly, it isn't going to be Adobe Digital Editions otherwise we would have heard about such a partnership during the iPad jamboree. We have to assume it will be something home-grown, that there will be some sort of submission process like the App Store has, but we don't know what it is yet, or what the expected lead times on book submission will be, or what types of hassles will be involved for the small publisher to get on board with iPad either.

These are questions that Apple needs to answer, and soon, if the iPad is to be successful at launch.

Do we need website-proofing and ebook authoring specifications and tools for iPad as soon as possible? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Software Development, Apple, Browser, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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40 comments
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  • Somehow

    "Apple?s iBooks reader and online bookstore for iPad will revolutionize the way we read electronic content."

    [sarcasm]Somehow, it will. You'll see. Apple never lies. All of their products are a success. It's true because they say so.[/sarcasm]

    "Some of us dyed-in-the-wool Apple skeptics and 'antagonists' even genuinely applauded the boldness of the device?s entry-level price point"

    I'm still looking for the mythical device that is more expensive than this device. Perhaps someday I will find it.

    With this article so heavily invested in ebooks, I should point out that it's certainly not cheaper than current ebook readers!!

    "The User Agent from iPad?s Safari also needs to be known so that so that web developers can make programmatic changes to our web sites to give iPad users an optimized website experience."

    Umm - that can be sniffed easily enough server side. Set up a temporary basic web server, surf to it with an iPad, and log it.

    And the blog you linked to had to be edited because apparently the iPad did indeed have a unique agent string - it's just that the simulator did not.
    CobraA1
    • Found the mythical device: Kindle DX

      Kindle DX, has the same price but it can only do a couple things the iPad is (allegedly) capable of doing and has about 1/4 of the memory capability as the iPad.

      So by comparison, the Kindle DX is the mythical device you can't find.
      wackoae
      • wackoae = apple crapologist

        Kindle DX costs LESS than the iPad, so it's not
        the "mythical" device that 1) costs MORE, and 2)
        you can't buy (as of today, you CAN buy it). Did
        you read what the OP wrote?
        markbn
      • The Kindle DX...

        is not the same price. It's $10 less.
        msalzberg
        • Not the same device

          and meant for very different applications/usage then the ipad. Comparing apples and oranges here...

          "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
          gnesterenko
    • Perlow joined Adrian and Andrew Nusca

      on Apple's blogger payroll.
      markbn
    • Found It !

      "I'm still looking for the mythical device that is more
      expensive than this device. Perhaps someday I will find
      it."


      Samsung Q1UP-V, $939.99
      Jkirk3279
  • Remember: "For the rest of us"

    Finally, amid the sea of iPad articles, an important missing
    question gets ask.

    Historically, the original Macintosh computer didn't really take off
    until, a year or so after its introduction when, there was a
    convergence with other emerging technologies and products. This
    included Adobe PostScript, the Apple LaserWriter, a PostScript RIP
    for imagesetters and Aldus PageMaker (actually Manhattan
    Graphics ReadySetGo! before it). Together, it brought forth the
    "desktop publishing" revolution--the ability for small operations
    and individuals to produce their own printed content without the
    restrictions of, and dependancies on, major publishing houses
    and media outlets.

    The tagline Apple began using was "for the rest of us." The
    democratization of the press and resulting societal and economic
    impacts were significant.

    I expect the iPad to be a hot consumer item. However, it's footing
    would be dramatically strengthen, and the real key to its sucess
    would be, if "the rest of us" could both easily produce and
    distribute content for it from vanity authors to in-house
    communications departments and local neighborhood weeklies,
    et cetera.

    Furthermore, while the iBookstore is specifically targeted for
    books, and in the ePub format at that, it seems that there's still a
    missing "(i)Newsstand" store needed for magazines, newspapers
    and newsletters. Right now you need to go to the separate iTunes
    "App Store" to get a separate proprietary reader for each of the
    big name newspapers like NYTimes, LA Times, The Guardian, et
    cetera. Like ebook publishing and distribution for the rest of us,
    similar questions pertain to smalltime newspapers and
    magazines.

    What is missing in all the talk about the iPad is an understanding
    of history and the need to carry the desktop publishing revolution
    forward into the tablet/netpad age "for the rest of us."
    Geoff Hall
  • Word to the wise... and ZDnet

    Dyed-in-the-wool Apple skeptics should be the [i]last[/i] to expect
    early access to Apple developments. That aside, why should anyone
    expect Apple's e-publishing process to be finalized at this time? Only a
    Microsoft shill would try to take Apple to task for this now.
    dogbreath1
    • or... i don't know...

      maybe an interested party that wants to be sure there will be actual choice of content to consume on the brand new expensive electronic device that he/she is considering purchasing? Just as an example for ya?

      "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
      gnesterenko
      • go ahead

        Go ahead and buy an iPad. Oh, wait, you can't. Not for almost 2 months
        (without 3G).

        And only 140,000+ apps and millions of tunes and videos are currently
        available for the unavailable device.
        dogbreath1
        • So the infrastructure is already in place

          and does not have to be built for the device. Good point. And in the intervening 2 months the price might (hopefully) come down and more apps, tunes, videos, and books will be available to put on the device.
          athynz
  • "revolutionize the way we read electronic content"

    How? There is absolutely nothing innovative in that. They
    copied others. How come we will see some "revolution"?
    markbn
    • Funny

      I recall the same things being said when the iPod was first launched, when iTunes was first launched, when the iPhone was first launched... and yet we've seen the revolution and evolution of those products and how people use them and similar products.
      athynz
      • Don't dodge the issue

        Explain in plain English, if you can, how the
        __iPad__ will "revolutionize the way we read
        electronic content".

        If both you and Perlow are unable to explain it,
        it means that it's B.S.

        Saying "Apple's products have revolutionized this
        or that" (you don't mention what they
        revolutionized either, but I concede it's
        irrelevant for _this_ argument) is not any kind
        of support for Perlow's assertion. If you have
        finished high school (which I doubt, but who
        knows), you can see why.
        markbn
        • Easy Enough

          Imagine this.

          You're reading a textbook; say, Geometric
          Dimensioning and Tolerancing, Applications and Inspection
          Second Edition:

          Page 7 PP3

          "Rule 1: Where only a tolerance of size is specified, the
          limits
          of size of an individual feature prescribe the extent to which
          variations in its geometric form, as well as size, are
          allowed."

          And you immediately say something that, if the instructor
          had
          been standing behind you, could have gotten you booted
          out
          of class !

          Is there a picture to explain what this means? No.

          So you hand-copy the text and do a Google search.

          And in a few minutes (or hours), you translate the Engineer-
          ese to this:

          "If a given feature hasn't been specified as a geometric form
          with it's own rules, like a cylinder, sphere, etc...

          ...then the limits on it's shape depend on the overall size
          specified... a feature's shape may be a little sloppy, but it
          can't be bigger than the listed size."

          You'll also be able to find pictures that illustrate this Rule --
          and BTW, you won't find helpful diagrams like that in the
          GD&T textbook.

          Now, that's where we are today.... hunting for references
          from
          paper texts...

          (It was the second week of class before I learned to interpret
          Engineer-ese.)

          When the GD&T ebook for the iPad eventually comes out, I
          hope to GOD it has embedded video and links right there in
          the body of the text.

          That would be, quote, "Revolutionary".

          To quickly and directly illustrate the meaning of a passage,
          to
          enhance understanding and comprehension.

          And you'll be able to annotate the eBook with audio clips, to
          help you review later.

          And consider eBooks for Algebra and Calculus.

          Instead of plodding through text examples in a paper
          textbook, we could have animated examples... you could
          even
          tap the iPad's screen, change the values of an equation, and
          then study the changed results.
          Jkirk3279
  • User agent sniffing

    You guys still don't get it:

    "[i]The User Agent from iPad?s Safari also needs to be known so that so that web developers can make programmatic changes to our web sites to give iPad users an optimized website experience[/i]"

    So-called optimising web sites using user the agent string has been out of vogue for about a decade. Do not do it, use capability or feature testing. If you detect a touch interface, by all means add enhancements for it but [b]do not[/b] use the user agenet string.

    Or are we going back to the darkest days of the browser wars era?
    Fred Fredrickson
  • RE: iPad's iBooks: Give Us The Tools

    Maybe it won't be such a good idea for Apple to knock one
    out of the park with the iPad on the second try (the first
    being the Newton). If they did, I'd hate to see how stupid
    the media is going to make Microsoft look. After many
    tries and failures, Microsoft is going to be seen as a highly
    incompetent company if they can't manage to get a decent
    Windows tablet that would interest consumers. It doesn't
    even seem that Microsoft is trying to get any book deals
    for HP's Slate tablet. I think they'd be the ones trying to
    get companies on board to deliver content for any
    Microsoft-powered mobile devices.

    I doubt if anyone even reads books on the Zune HD. Are
    there even any apps to do that? Microsoft is falling further
    and further behind in the mobile industry. Maybe
    Microsoft doesn't desire to compete in the e-Book industry
    since it has such a huge hold over the computer desktop
    industry.
    ConstableOdo
    • A few things

      The HP Slate tablet runs windows. Windows has many e-book reader software available already - MS needs to do nothing because the capability and infrastructure has long been in place and developed. In fact, you can even put Kindle software on it and read Kindle books. And about 3 months after the ipad release, that slate will have the functionality to read Apples formats as well. Content is suit that MS has in spades and will probably continue for a while. Your bias is blinding.

      Second. THe amount of people that actually read an actual book on a Zune HD is probably proportional to the amout of people that use their IPhone to read books - that is, very small. I'm not sure why you'd bring up a use neither the devices were made for, other then, of course, to promote the enclave corporation you've chosen to throw your support behind.

      Cheers!

      "The views expressed here are mine and do not reflect the official opinion of my employer or the organization through which the Internet was accessed."
      gnesterenko
  • one thing from Apple would eventually die if

    iPad becomes successful. iPod Touch would eventually die if
    iPad is adopted by mass. Also iPhone would take a hit too.
    People would buy a free phone (not a smartphone) and iPad
    3G if iPad 3G makes compelling because almost all the apps
    that run on iPhone, iPod touch would run on iPad.

    I know this is a wrong thread, but that is my opinion.
    --Ram--
    Ram U